On Saturday, March 30, 10 handbell ensembles from the Sacramento area came together at the Sacramento Spring Ring to improve their ringing, play together, and socialize. The Sacramento Spring Ring was originally held in the 1980s through the early 2000s. It was the first time in over 10 years that such an event had been held in Sacramento, and many of the musicians were eager to see the event’s revival.
The event, endorsed by Handbell Musicians of America (HMA) Area XII, was spearheaded by members of RiverBells Sacramento, a community handbell ensemble based out of South Sacramento that was founded by its director Paul W. Allen nearly 21 years ago. The group consists of between 11–15 musicians, depending on the season, and rings between four and six octaves of bells. Typical ensembles can range from about six to eight members on the low end to 15 or so on the large end, and ring anywhere from two to seven octaves; repertoire also exists for smaller groups and even for handbell solo.
Joining RiverBells Sacramento and the nine other local groups was Barbara Walsh, director of the Reno-based Tintabulations. She has over 30 years of experience directing youth and adult handbell ensembles and has helped lead workshops in other HMA Area XII events, as well.
Handbells may seem obscure to some, but have been around for awhile. They developed from tower bells about 300 years ago when tower bell ringers needed a way to practice without disturbing the townspeople. Many tower bells have historically been found in churches, and handbells have likewise largely developed within a church setting. Many handbell ensembles today consist of amateur musicians who play together in their church to contribute to their worship services. In recent decades, however, increasing numbers of community handbell ensembles have popped up. These groups often aspire to play more advanced music and a wider range of music than church groups, and to appeal to a wider audience. Ensembles at the Sacramento Spring Ring represented both church and community groups.
The Spring Ring consisted of a mass ring, a workshop, and a concert. During the mass ring portion, all 10 ensembles practiced the same repertoire together. Because of the diverse nature of the ensembles that attend events like this, mass ring music is often selected to be flexible for groups of different sizes. Smaller groups omit optional high and low notes, and larger groups play everything. Beginning and intermediate ringers then attended a workshop focusing on handbell technique, and directors met to share about their experiences leading their respective ensembles.
The day ended with the concert, free to the public, featuring the day’s mass ring repertoire and a rally ring. During the rally ring, several ensembles performed pieces they had prepared during their own rehearsal time prior to the event. Rally rings are a particularly good opportunity for the ringers to see what other groups are doing and for less advanced ringers to see what more advanced groups are able to do.
The next northern California Spring Ring, organized by Handbell Ventures, and endorsed by HMA Area XII, will occur in Cupertino the first weekend in May.